If you've spent any time researching online, you'll often see the number of uses of hemp at anywhere between 10,000 to 25,000. While we are huge hemp enthusiasts, we aren't going to try and list them all here for you. Instead, we have attempted to give an overview of the main sectors that hemp is currently utilised. There are undoubtedly many more applications not listed on this page, if you are interested, for example, in understanding how hemp could improve computer circuits, amongst other uses, check out our Instagram page. In the meantime, though, read on to see how hemp is a realistic alternative throughout many sectors today.
Most clothing nowadays is produced with cotton, which is responsible for approx. 15-25% of chemicals used worldwide. This is a giant issue, as these chemicals enter our eco-system. Alternatively, hemp fibre, which comes from the outer part of the stalks, is more environmentally friendly as the hemp plant, being a "weed", requires no herbicides, pesticides, and little-to-no fertiliser. Hemp can produce three times more fibre than cotton from the same amount of land, and the water footprint of hemp textiles is less than one-third of regular cotton.
Hemp fibre has been used for clothing for thousands of years, as our ancestors took advantage of its strong and durable properties. It is breathable and absorbs moisture while keeping you warm in winter and cool in summer. Additionally, we know that hemp textile has UV-protective and anti-microbial properties.
Due to the prohibition in 1937, hemp represents a small part of the global textile industry today. By increasing customer demand, we will see further research and development, which will help overcome barriers which, up to now, have limited hemp's ability to be more widely used.
Hemp seed is a true super-food. The hemp seed, and its derivative hemp oil, contain many essential micro-nutrients and vitamins needed for sustaining a healthy diet.
Hemp is one of the richest sources of polyunsaturated fats (omega 3 & 6), which is linked to lower blood cholesterol, which can decrease the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.
The seeds are packed with protein, by weight providing similar amounts of protein as beef and lamb. They are high in fibre, Vitamin E, magnesium, iron and zinc.
Historically, hemp seeds were used as food in China for thousands of years. Seeds can be eaten raw, cooked or roasted, and the oil is a perfect addition to any salad.
Hemp seeds and oil are essential for a variety of diets. They particularly useful for diets; excluding fish (Vegetarian and Vegan), based on high protein (Paleo), and high fat (Ketogenic).
Hemp has two promising applications for the building industry. Hemp fibres can make insulation material, and the hemp shives can make Hempcrete, an alternative to concrete.
Hemp insulation has similar thermal properties to the commonly used mineral wool. However, hemp offers a higher heat capacity, keeping the building warmer in winter and cooler in summer. It is more breathable leading to better indoor air quality.
Hempcrete, mixed using, hemp shives, limestone, water and binder, doesn't contain any harmful chemicals. Hempcrete is anti-fungal, fire-resistant, and breathable, resulting in healthy homes. Hempcrete is both building material and insulation mixed into one. It is safe to work with and easy to mould, making it attractive for self-builders.
Hemp insulation and Hempcrete require a slightly larger upfront investment. But when you factor in energy savings and the environmental benefits, it can be cheaper over time. Hemp building materials are completely natural, sustainable and longer-lasting.
Hemp was first listed as a plant with medical benefits in China over 4600 years ago. The important medicinal substances in hemp are called cannabinoids. There are over 200 different cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are chemical compounds interacting with the body's regulatory system. The Endogenous Cannabinoid System (ECS) is one of the most important physiological systems involved in establishing and maintaining human health. Cannabinoids can be consumed but also are produced naturally in the body.
So far, most research is focused on two cannabinoids, THC and CBD. In industrial hemp, CBD (Cannabidiol) is the most commonly found, and it's not psychoactive like THC. For the extraction of CBD, one uses the leaves and buds of the plant, which are leftover while harvesting shives, bast and seeds. CBD is commonly consumed orally, topically on the skin, and can also be inhaled.
Among others, CBD's properties are analgesic, anti-depressant and -inflammatory, antioxidant and neuroprotective, supporting the treatment of several diseases such as cancer, epilepsy or migraines. As more research is taking place today, we expect CBD to become a more critical medical compound in the future.
Humans have been using hemp to make paper for over 2000 years, in fact, the first piece of paper was made of hemp, as was the Gutenberg Bible, and the draft of the Declaration of Independence. Hemp paper is more durable, is harder to tear, and can last for 100's of years, without yellowing. In comparison, tree-based paper only last about 80 years.
Paper is made by using the cellulose from the plant. Hemp contains 60-85% cellulose while trees only have 30-40%, this also leads to hemp requiring less chemicals to produce paper than trees. Trees as we know, take anywhere from 20-80 years to fully grow, while hemp can fully develop within four months. Annually, per hectare, hemp can produce four times the amount of paper as trees.
Since we lose more and more of our forest areas, the usage of hemp-paper is an eco-friendly and sustainable alternative to tree-based paper. Unfortunately, there are still a few hurdles preventing widespread adoption of hemp paper; it is currently more expensive as it's harder to find. As more investment is made into hemp-based paper, we expect to see cost decrease and supply increase.
Our skin is constantly exposed to factors causing dehydration, creating a fatty acid deficiency, which contributes to impure skin appearance and skin diseases. Hemp oil has a similar Omega 3 & 6 ratio as our skin (3-1 vs 4-1) which means it moisturises the skin without clogging the pores, balancing out and hydrating oily skin. It also improves the softness and elasticity while leading to an overall improved skin appearance. Hemp oil can also be included in soaps, lotions, shampoo and balms which won't dry out the skin and leaves the skin a healthy natural state.
Recent studies have suggested that CBD, in conjunction with the EndoCannabinoid System, can regulate the healthy function of skin cells, which opens up a range of new treatment options for skin diseases.
Our globalised world strongly relies on mobility and electricity. In both cases, fossil fuels are still the primary source, resulting in a constant decline of available fossil fuels. In the past years, people started to think about how humanity can handle these issues and thereby researched new technologies to turn plant residues into biofuels. This, however, leads to competition for land between food and fuel crops; therefore, people are validating the most nutrient-use-and energy-efficient fuel crops.
Here, hemp is an outstanding option, as many studies indicate. It can be used to produce three different types of renewable fuels: biodiesel, bioethanol and methane. Multiple parts of the plant can be utilised for the various applications, reducing the carbon footprint and increasing the fuel production per hectare. In conclusion, hemp possesses many characteristics that make it a valid option in the production of biofuels and is in many aspects, superior to commonly used fuel crops.
Furthermore, hemp-derived materials made their way into electronics where they play key roles in the storage of electricity. It could be that you will find hemp in your future mobile phone or car.
Today, the world is facing a big problem – around 300 million tons of petroleum-based plastic are produced every year from which only 10% is recycled. The remaining 90% goes into landfills or end up in our environment, affecting our entire eco-system – we need a better solution. Bioplastics made of hemp fibres is just that. Hemp bast fibres come from the bark of the hemp stalk. They contain a high amount of cellulose (hemp: 60–85% vs wood: 30-40%), which is required for producing renewable and sustainable polymers. Processed hemp fibres strong and rigid, opening the door to producing several disposable and non-disposable everyday items, e.g. cars, mobiles, packaging, bottles or straws. Furthermore, studies have shown a reduction of CO2-emission by 30–80% compared to the production of traditional plastics.
This presents an opportunity for hemp to be used as a sustainable and carbon negative source of plasticising material. By using it as an alternative to oil-based plastics, we can minimise our ecological footprint in the future.